"What does being a 'good wife' mean to you?"
Good wife, good husband, good partner, whatever. I was recently interviewed as a part of the research phase for a book on the subject of marriage. This was not one of the interview questions, but it reminded me that someone asked me this question a long time ago. I've been collecting my thoughts and writing it all out very slowly.
"Be gentle and respectful, as a woman should be,
Mindful of word and look, observant of good example."
These two lines from Wei Ying-wu's poem "To My Daughter, On Her Marriage Into The Yang Family" have been something of an inspiration to me.
Things I try to live by:
1. Never say anything about him to a third party that he doesn't already know.
You owe it to your partner to let them be the first to know what you're thinking about them or something that relates to them. Whether you think it's a good or bad opinion, they have the right to know before anyone else does. Anything I say to anyone about my husband, he's heard from me at least once already.
2. Never gripe about him in public.
Personally, I don't like talking about unresolved issues between the two of us to anyone else unless it's to a close family member (my parents, his mother) or close friends. I'll admit, there have been times when I've slipped up on this too... got caught up in conversation, got on a roll with the topic, didn't notice going from harmless chatter to all-out griping, etc. But my feeling is, if you can't communicate well enough together to resolve your personal drama between the two of you and keep it contained between the two of you without involving other people needlessly, you really have no business being together in the first place.
3. Laugh at his jokes, even if they're stupid.
In my mind, this doesn't include extraordinarily rude, crass, tasteless jokes, but if he told jokes that really bothered me, I wouldn't have stayed with him.
Help him make his jokes funnier so that he can tell other people and they can think he's funny. And if they're never told to anyone else, at least the two of you will have fun.
At each other, with each other, it doesn't matter. As long as you're both laughing.
4. Have the wisdom to manipulate life so that it maximizes his genuine appreciation for me. Have the wisdom to not set myself up to be The Bad Guy, so adding to the shared loving memories that will tide us over when things get rough.
5. In public with him, look neat, tidy, healthy, happy and appropriate for the occasion, appropriate for my stature and station in life.
Notice I didn't say "beautiful". =} I will never, in a bazillion years, qualify as a "trophy wife"... hell, I barely qualify to be "a wife", period. I'm not too proud to try though. It's true that how people react to a person is somewhat affected by what their spouses look like, act and how they are treated by their spouses in public.
6. Speak intelligently, give thoughtful and insightful commentary, in the company of his peers and colleagues.
Whether you like it or not, people will see the two of you as one... or at least not entirely two completely separate entities. Unless people know you both well and have interacted with each of you individually, respect for one of you will generally transfer to the other. Conversely, ill feelings towards one of you will also transfer to the other. In a hetero marriage, people have a tendency to assume that if the wife is smart, then the husband must be at least as smart, if not smarter. Whatever they think "smart" means. Whether this is an ass-backwards attitude, whether they're pigs for thinking this or not is not the point. It's about playing the game and learning to use your environment to your advantage. The world isn't going to change just because you don't like the way it is.
7. Conventional advice is that there should be 100% honesty between spouses/partners, but I also think there should be a certain amount of discretion. There are things I don't say to him and don't tell him. I'm absolutely not advocating dishonesty and deceitful behaviour though. He and I are more honest with each other than anyone else and the sugar-coating is much thinner with him. But, he's a human being just like the best of them and his emotional state is affected by negativity. I've learned what sets him off, what makes him irrationally angry and there are things that just should not be said.
This is from my point of view, but he does the same for me.
Whether I succeed at these is an entirely different story. =D
Much of this is stuff that I think I should be doing, husband or not. It just so happens that this is in the context of marriage, but I believe that if you truly love someone, you'll actually want to do your best for them or you won't mind trying even if it's hard for you.
There's tons more, but this is all I'm motivated to blather for now.